Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Villisca: Mass Murder in Iowa

Everyone's Dead

In southeastern Iowa near the town of Bonaparte, five members of the affluent Bentler Family were slaughtered in their home on October 14, 2006. Fourteen-year-old Shayne Bentler had called 911 shortly after 3:30 in the morning, afraid that her brother "was going to do something." Before she could explain, a gunshot sounded in the background and someone screamed, "Shawn, no!" After that, Shayne said nothing more. The line was dead.

Shawn Bentler
Shawn Bentler

Michael Bentler, their father, had been 53, and the owner of a lumber and elevator company. His wife, Sandra was six years younger. The final victim was Shelby, 15. The three girls had been the sisters of Shawn Bentler, 22 and a father of two girls (with two different women), who lived with a roommate in Quincy, Illinois. He was arrested there on the weekend on unrelated charges. Two days later, he was extradited to Iowa. Since his own sister had shouted his name before dying, there was little doubt that he'd been present.

At the same time, Shayne's sister, Sheena, 17, had called 911 from her cell phone, but she apparently died before it was answered. When the dispatcher attempted to return the call, no one picked up. Sandra had already died with the rest of her family.

Michael & Sandra Bentler
Michael & Sandra Bentler

On October 17, Shawn was charged with five counts of first-degree murder. Said to be agitated and shaking uncontrollably after his arrest, he seemed anything but a typical mass murderer. His bond was set at $2.5 million, cash only, and he was considered a danger to others. His reason for the rampage remained unspoken, as he avoided eye contact with relatives who sat in the courtroom, weeping or shaking their heads over the sudden inexplicable tragedy.

Stress could have been an influence, as Shawn made little money and had fallen behind in child support payments, but people who knew him said that he never seemed to be tense or angry, as one might expect from a mass killer. Perhaps he will eventually reveal his motive, but a family massacre of this magnitude is not often seen in rural areas of Iowa. However, across the state, such an incident occurred in 1912 that became one of the most sensational stories of that decade.

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